Jorge Fierro recalled a long night almost two decades ago. He was a student at Horizonte, a dishwasher at the Devereaux Mansion and he was homesick for his native Mexico.
At 1 a.m. after a long day of school and work, he headed to the store and bought some tortillas, cheese and canned refried beans. He returned home at 2:30 in the morning and began to make cheese and bean burritos — but they tasted awful. He remembered his mother’s small business in Chihuahua. He had come to America in 1985 to learn English, start his own business and live the American dream.
Now it was time to do just that.
“Success really happens when you put all your time and your heart into it. It is not easy. It is a lot work,” Fierro said. “You have to build your American dream with the opportunity that America gives you.”
In 1997, Fierro started to sell beans at the Downtown Farmers Market, but at the end of the season he wasn’t sure what to do. A friend suggested Fierro submit a business proposal to the Utah Microenterprise Loan Fund. When he returned to the farmers market the following year, he was able to tell people about his new store.
Now, 20 years later, Fierro’s business has grown from a small tent at Salt Lake City's Downtown Farmers Market to a thriving business, Frida Bistro and Rico Brands located at 545 W. 700 South.
“Jorge is really sort of the classic example of what we want in our market,” said Alison Einerson, market manager at The Downtown Alliance. “What we want to do is be a place for new products to be born, find a consumer base and be as successful as they can.”
She said even if those vendors don’t have a storefront or go nationwide, the goal is to help vendors realize their dream.
The vendors come from as far away as 250 miles; but the market wasn’t always so fruitful.
Einerson said 26 years ago Bob Farrington, who helped found and launch the farmers market downtown, would drive U.S. 89 to try to talk people into bringing their items to Pioneer Park. Now vendors may be turned away because there is not enough room. Einerson said on any given summer Saturday there could be 5,000 to 15,000 people at the farmers market.
The farmers market can also provide education opportunities to those who attend the market, said Nick Como, Downtown Alliance senior director of communication and marketing. When someone asks for a tomato or watermelon in June, that provides an opening to teach about how food grows.
“Teaching people how to eat seasonally as well as locally is really a large component of the market and part of the core mission of Urban Food Connections,” Como said.
The Downtown Market in Pioneer Park that opens June 10 is managed by Urban Foods Connections of Utah, which also managed the Tuesday Harvest Market at Pioneer Park that opens in August and the Winter Market at the Rio Grande.
The Downtown Farmers Market also has a partnership with LDS Hospital to provide a fun way for children to take part in the market, Einerson said. The Market Kids Club allows kids to participate in a scavenger hunt or eat new food and be rewarded with a $2 coupon to spend at a vendor.
Education opportunities are also offered at Farmers Market Ogden, which opens June 24 and runs through Sept. 16.
Kim Bowsher is the executive director of Ogden Downtown Alliance, which alliance became the managing entity for Farmers Market Ogden in 2016. Bowsher said the new management group hopes to expand the market scene in Ogden, not only to provide space for people to sell food but to also cultivate and educate the community about urban agriculture.
As part of that education goal, the alliance has formed a partnership with Utah State University Extension to offer onsite education at the market. There will be cooking demos and classes on how to use local produce for affordable, healthy, local meal options.
“The biggest thing that we can do is educate people on what is missing locally and create a sense of urgency around that,” Bowsher said.
One goal of Ogden Downtown Alliance is to help people understand why local is important. Bowsher pointed to these three reasons.
- Health: “When you are eating things that are grown in your local environment, the amount of nutrients that are in your food are so much higher than when your food is picked before its prime, packed before ripe and been on a truck,” she said.
- Economic: “Agriculture is hugely important to the economic vitality of an area and a community,” she said.
- Personal: “Knowing where your food comes from, knowing that it was picked the day before you are eating it, just the level of trust in how your food was grown and processed and delivered to you is a huge thing. I think there is a level of happiness and content around knowing where your food comes from,” she said.
Einerson and Como offered these tips for attending the Downtown Farmers Market:
- Come early; many vendors sell out by 11 a.m.
- Bring reusable bags
- Park at the Gateway
- Take advantage of the veggie valet if you purchase 6 or more bags of food
- Plan to spend a couple of hours
- Have conversations with vendors
- Pick up some lunch
- Don’t be afraid to try new food and ask for recipe ideas
- Cash is a good idea but some vendors may have a card reader
Einerson and Como said to expect herbs, lettuce, kale, other greens, carrots, beets, radishes, garlic scapes and possibly peas and cherries for the opening of farmers markets. The Downtown Farmers Market also accepts EBT payments and participates in Double Up Food Bucks.
“Market day is the best day,” Einerson said.
Those best days at the farmers market helped Fierro, an immigrant, make his dream a reality as he moved the business from tent to mortar.
“You never know when a tent is going to become mortar and is going to become a powerhouse in a community,” Fierro said. “Good people and heroes are built in great communities like ours.”